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Lothar Meyer S Classification Essay





Although Dmitri Mendeleev is often considered the "father" of the periodic table, the work of many scientists contributed to its present form.

In the Beginning
A necessary prerequisite to the construction of the periodic table was the discovery of the individual elements. Although elements such as gold, silver, tin, copper, lead and mercury have been known since antiquity, the first scientific discovery of an element occurred in 1649 when Hennig Brand discovered phosphorous. During the next 200 years, a vast body of knowledge concerning the properties of elements and their compounds was acquired by chemists (view a 1790 article on the elements). By 1869, a total of 63 elements had been discovered. As the number of known elements grew, scientists began to recognize patterns in properties and began to develop classification schemes.

Law of Triads
In 1817 Johann Dobereiner noticed that the atomic weight of strontium fell midway between the weights of calcium and barium, elements possessing similar chemical properties. In 1829, after discovering the halogen triad composed of chlorine, bromine, and iodine and the alkali metal triad of lithium, sodium and potassium he proposed that nature contained triads of elements the middle element had properties that were an average of the other two members when ordered by the atomic weight (the Law of Triads).

This new idea of triads became a popular area of study. Between 1829 and 1858 a number of scientists (Jean Baptiste Dumas, Leopold Gmelin, Ernst Lenssen, Max von Pettenkofer, and J.P. Cooke) found that these types of chemical relationships extended beyond the triad. During this time fluorine was added to the halogen group; oxygen, sulfur,selenium and tellurium were grouped into a family while nitrogen, phosphorus, arsenic, antimony, and bismuth were classified as another. Unfortunately, research in this area was hampered by the fact that accurate values of were not always available.
First Attempts At Designing a Periodic Table
If a periodic table is regarded as an ordering of the chemical elements demonstrating the periodicity of chemical and physical properties, credit for the first periodic table (published in 1862) probably should be given to a French geologist, A.E.Beguyer de Chancourtois. De Chancourtois transcribed a list of the elements positioned on a cylinder in terms of increasing atomic weight. When the cylinder was constructed so that 16 mass units could be written on the cylinder per turn, closely related elements were lined up vertically. This led de Chancourtois to propose that "the properties of the elements are the properties of numbers." De Chancourtois was first to recognize that elemental properties reoccur every seven elements, and using this chart, he was able to predict the stoichiometry of several metallic oxides. Unfortunately, his chart included some ions and compounds in addition to elements.

Law of Octaves
John Newlands, an English chemist, wrote a paper in 1863 which classified the 56 established elements into 11 groups based on similar physical properties, noting that many pairs of similar elements existed which differed by some multiple of eight in atomic weight. In 1864 Newlands published his version of the periodic table and proposed the Law of Octaves (by analogy with the seven intervals of the musical scale). This law stated that any given element will exhibit analogous behavior to the eighth element following it in the table.
Who Is The Father of the Periodic Table?

There has been some disagreement about who deserves credit for being the "father" of the periodic table, the German Lothar Meyer (pictured here) or the Russian Dmitri Mendeleev. Both chemists produced remarkably similar results at the same time working independently of one another. Meyer's 1864 textbook included a rather abbreviated version of a periodic table used to classify the elements. This consisted of about half of the known elements listed in order of their atomic weight and demonstrated periodic valence chages as a function of atomic weight. In 1868, Meyer constructed an extended table which he gave to a colleague for evaluation. Unfortunately for Meyer, Mendeleev's table became available to the scientific community via publication (1869) before Meyer's appeared (1870).



Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev (1834-1907), the youngest of 17 children was born in the Siberian town of Tobol'sk where his father was a teacher of Russian literature and philosophy (portrait by Ilyia Repin). Mendeleev was not considered an outstanding student in his early education partly due to his dislike of the classical languages that were an important educational requirement at the time even though he showed prowess in mathematics and science. After his father's death, he and his mother moved to St. Petersburg to pursue a university education. After being denied admission to both the University of Moscow and St. Petersburg University because of his provincial background and unexceptional academic background, he finally earned a place at the Main Pedagogical Institute (St. Petersburg Institute). Upon graduation, Mendeleev took a position teaching science in a gymnasium. After a time as a teacher, he was admitted to graduate work at St. Petersburg University where he earned a Master's degree in 1856. Mendeleev so impressed his instructors that he was retained to lecture in chemistry. After spending 1859 and 1860 in Germany furthering his chemical studies, he secured a position as professor of chemistry at St. Petersburg University, a position he retained until 1890. While writing a textbook on systematic inorganic chemistry, Principles of Chemistry, which appeared in thirteen editions the last being in 1947, Mendeleev organized his material in terms of the families of the known elements which displayed similar properties. The first part of the text was devoted to the well known chemistry of the halogens. Next, he chose to cover the chemistry of the metallic elements in order of combining power -- alkali metals first (combining power of one), alkaline earths (two), etc. However, it was difficult to classify metals such as copper and mercury which had multiple combining powers, sometimes one and other times two. While tryuing to sort out this dilema, Mendeleev noticed patterns in the properties and atomic weights of halogens, alkali metals and alkaline metals. He observed similarities between the series Cl-K-Ca , Br-/Rb-Sr and I-Cs-Ba. In an effort to extend this pattern to other elements, he created a card for each of the 63 known elements. Each card contained the element's symbol, atomic weight and its characteristic chemical and physical properties. When Mendeleev arranged the cards on a table in order of ascending atomic weight grouping elements of similar properties together in a manner not unlike the card arrangement in his favorite solitare card game, patience, the periodic table was formed. From this table, Mendeleev developed his statement of the periodic law and published his work On the Relationship of the Properties of the Elements to their Atomic Weights in 1869. The advantage of Mendeleev's table over previous attempts was that it exhibited similarities not only in small units such as the triads, but showed similarities in an entire network of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal relationships. In 1906, Mendeleev came within one vote of being awarded the Nobel Prize for his work.

At the time that Mendeleev developed his periodic table since the experimentally determined atomic masses were not always accurate, he reordered elements despite their accepted masses. For example, he changed the weight of beryllium from 14 to 9. This placed beryllium into Group 2 above magnesium whose properties it more closely resembled than where it had been located above nitrogen. In all Mendeleev found that 17 elements had to be moved to new positions from those indicated strictly by atomic weight for their properties to correlate with other elements. These changes indicated that there were errors in the accepted atomic weights of some elements (atomic weights were calculated from combining weights, the weight of an element that combines with a given weight of a standard.) However, even after corrections were made by redetermining atomic weights, some elements still needed to be placed out of order of their atomic weights. From the gaps present in his table, Mendeleev predicted the existence and properties of unknown elements which he called eka-aluminum, eka-boron, and eka-silicon. The elements gallium, scandium and germanium were found later to fit his predictions quite well. In addition to the fact that Mendeleev's table was published before Meyers', his work was more extensive predicting new or missing elements. In all Mendeleev predicted the existence of 10 new elements, of which seven were eventually discovered -- the other three, atomic weights 45, 146 and 175 do not exist. He also was incorrect in suggesting that the element pairs of argon-potassium, cobalt-nickel and tellurium-iodine should be interchanged in position due to inaccurate atomic weights. Although these elements did need to be interchanged, it was because of a flaw in the reasoning that periodicity is a function of atomic weight.

Discovery of the Noble Gases
In 1895 Lord Rayleigh reported the discovery of a new gaseous element named argon which proved to be chemically inert. This element did not fit any of the known periodic groups. In 1898, William Ramsey suggested that argon be placed into the periodic table between chlorine and potassium in a family with helium, despite the fact that argon's atomic weight was greater than that of potassium. This group was termed the "zero" group due to the zero valency of the elements. Ramsey accurately predicted the future discovery and properties neon.

Atomic Structure and the Periodic Table
Although Mendeleev's table demonstrated the periodic nature of the elements, it remained for the discoveries of scientists of the 20th Century to explain why the properties of the elements recur periodically.

In 1911 Ernest Rutherford published studies of the scattering of alpha particles by heavy atom nuclei which led to the determination of nuclear charge. He demonstrated that the nuclear charge on a nucleus was proportional to the atomic weight of the element. Also in 1911, A. van den Broek in a series of two papers proposed that the atomic weight of an element was approximately equal to the charge on an atom. This charge, later termed the atomic number, could be used to number the elements within the periodic table. In 1913, Henry Moseley (see a picture) published the results of his measurements of the wavelengths of the x-ray spectral lines of a number of elements which showed that the ordering of the wavelengths of the x-ray emissions of the elements coincided with the ordering of the elements by atomic number. With the discovery of isotopes of the elements, it became apparent that atomic weight was not the significant player in the periodic law as Mendeleev, Meyers and others had proposed, but rather, the properties of the elements varied periodically with atomic number.

The question of why the periodic law exists was answered as scientists developed an understanding of the electronic structure of the elements beginning with Niels Bohr's studies of the organization of electrons into shells through G.N. Lewis' (see a picture) discoveries of bonding electron pairs.

The Modern Periodic Table
The last major changes to the periodic table resulted from Glenn Seaborg's work in the middle of the 20th Century. Starting with his discovery of plutonium in 1940, he discovered all the transuranic elements from 94 to 102. He reconfigured the periodic table by placing the actinide series below the lanthanide series. In 1951, Seaborg was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work. Element 106 has been named seaborgium (Sg) in his honor.




  • 1.

    This is the odd date out. It comes from examining drafts of Meyer’s textbook dated before Mendeleev’s 1869 publications. See Karl Seubert, “Zur Geschichte des periodischen Systems,” Zeitschrift für anorganische Chemie 9 (1895): 334–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

  • 2.

    Sharing credit between Meyer and Mendeleev used to be more common than it is today. See, for example, Curt Schmidt, Das periodische System der chemischen Elemente (Leipzig: Johann Ambrosius Barth, 1917), 22Google Scholar

  • and Karl Seubert, ed., Das natürliche System der chemischen Elemente: Abhandlungen von Lothar Meyer und D. Mendelejeff (Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann, 1895), 122.Google Scholar

  • 3.

    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, tr. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953), § 76, 36e.Google Scholar

  • 4.

    For the classic and still relevant discussion of this problem, see Robert K. Merton, “Priorities in Scientific Discovery: A Chapter in the Sociology of Science,” American Sociological Review 22 (1957): 635–659;CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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  • 5.

    Edward G. Mazurs, Graphic Representations of the Periodic System during One Hundred Years (University: University of Alabama Press, 1974 [1957]).Google Scholar

  • 6.

    This list is drawn from a synthesis of: Eric R. Scerri, The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007);Google Scholar

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  • 7.

    For thoughtful critiques of the notion of “discovery” in the sciences, see Theodore Arabatzis, Representing Electrons: A Biographical Approach to Theoretical Entities (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 19–26Google Scholar

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  • 8.

    P. Lecoq de Boisbaudran and A. de Lapparent, “Sur une réclamation de priorité en faveur de M. de Chancourtois, relativement aux relations numériques des poids atomiques,” Comptes rendus 112, no. 2 (1891): 77–81Google Scholar

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  • 9.

    The most strenuous advocate of Newlands’s priority was Newlands himself; see especially J. A. R. Newlands, On the Discovery of the Periodic Law, and on Relations Among the Atomic Weights (London: E. & F. N. Spon, 1884).Google Scholar

  • 11.

    Carl A. Zapffe, “Gustavus Hinrichs, Precursor of Mendeleev,” Isis 60 (1969): 461–476CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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  • 12.

    Tentatively argued in Scerri, The Periodic Table, 93 and more vigorously in Friedemann Rex, “Zur Erinnerung an Felix Hoppe-Seyler, Lothar Meyer und Walter Hückel: Berufungsgeschichten und Periodensystem,” Bausteine zur Tübinger Universitätsgeschichte 8 (1997): 103–130, on p. 130.Google Scholar

  • 13.

    François Dagognet, Tableaux et Langages de la Chimie (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1969), 97;Google Scholar

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  • 14.

    See the excellent discussion in Alan J. Rocke, The Quiet Revolution: Hermann Kolbe and the Science of Organic Chemistry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).Google Scholar

  • 15.

    For Meyer’s acknowledgement of Cannizzaro’s influence, see Lothar Meyer, ed., Abriss eines Lehrganges der Theoretischen Chemie vorgetragen an der Universität Genua von Prof. S. Cannizzaro, tr. Arthur Moliati (Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann, 1891)Google Scholar

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  • 16.

    I draw liberally on a series of recent studies on using textbooks to analyze the development of nineteenth-century chemistry, especially Anders Lundgren and Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent, eds., Communicating Chemistry: Textbooks and Their Audiences, 1789–1939 (Canton, Mass.: Science History Publications/USA, 2000).Google Scholar

  • 17.

    The biographical details are drawn from Michael D. Gordin, A Well-Ordered Thing: Dmitrii Mendeleev and the Shadow of the Periodic Table (New York: Basic Books, 2004).Google Scholar

  • 18.

    For details, see Michael D.Gordin, “The Heidelberg Circle: German Inflections on the Professionalization of Russian Chemistry in the 1860s,” Osiris 23 (2008): 23–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

  • 19.

    D. I. Mendeleev, Organicheskaia khimiia (St. Petersburg: Obshchestvennaia pol’za, 1861).Google Scholar

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  • 20.

    The textbook is reproduced as volume 2 of A. M. Butlerov, Sochineniia, 3 vols. (Moscow: Izd. AN SSSR, 1953–1958).Google Scholar

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  • 21.

    K. Ia. Parmenov, Khimiia kak uchebnyi predmet v dorevoliutsionnoi i sovetskoi shkole (Moscow: Akademiia pedagogicheskikh nauk RSFSR, 1963). Chapter 3 of this work discusses the lasting impact of Mendeleev’s Principles of Chemistry.Google Scholar

  • 23.

    D. I. Mendeleev, from the introduction to the fifth edition of Osnovy khimii (1889), as reproduced in D. I. Mendeleev, Periodicheskii zakon: Dopolnitel’nye materialy. Klassiki nauki, ed. B. M. Kedrov (Moscow: Izd. AN SSSR, 1960), 381. Ellipses added.Google Scholar

  • 25.

    Mendeleev to Erlenmeyer, [August 1871?], repr. in Otto Krätz, “Zwei Briefe Dmitri Iwanowitsch Mendelejeffs an Emil Erlenmeyer,” Physis 12 (1970): 347–352, onp. 351. The article in question is Mendeleev’s famous “Die periodische Gesetzmässigkeit der chemischen Elemente,” Liebigs Annalen der Chemie und Pharmacie, Supp. VIII (1872): 133–229.Google Scholar

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    D. Mendeleeff, “The Periodic Law of Chemical Elements,” Chemical News 41 (1881): 2–3, on p. 3.Google Scholar

  • 27.

    V. P. Veinberg, Iz vospominanii o Dmitrii Ivanoviche Mendeleeve kak lektor (Tomsk: Tip. gubernskago upravleniia, 1910);Google Scholar

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  • 29.

    [William Crookes], “The Chemistry of the Future,” Quarterly Journal of Science 7 (1877): 289–306, on p. 306.Google Scholar

  • 30.

    Don Rawson has suggested that Mendeleev’s hostility to Prout liberated him from the numerological tendency one often observes in earlier claimants to discovery of the periodic law, particularly Newlands: Rawson, “The Process of Discovery.” On Prout and his hypothesis, see W. H. Brock, From Protyle to Proton: William Prout and the Nature of Matter, 1785–1985 (Bristol: Adam Hilger Ltd., 1985).Google Scholar

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  • 31.

    A. A. Makarenya, “Development of the Valency Concept in the Aspect of the Theory of Periodicity,” in V. I. Kuznetsov, ed., Theory of Valency in Progress, tr. Alexander Rosinkin (Moscow: Mir Publishers, 1980): 75–84.Google Scholar

  • 33.

    V. von Richter, “[Correspondence from St. Petersburg],” Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft zu Berlin 2 (1869): 552–554CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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  • 34.

    D. Mendelejeff, “Ueber die Beziehungen der Eigenschaften zu den Atomgewichten der Elemente.” Zeitschrift für Chemie, n.s. 5 (1869): 405–406.Google Scholar

  • Mendeleev was aware of the translation error (stufenweise vs. periodisch; “gradual” vs. “periodic”) and took Meyer to task for not checking the Russian original. (Mendelejeff, “Zur Frage über das System der Elemente,” Berichte der Detuschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 4 (1871): 348–352, on p. 351.) Meyer’s response reflected his exasperation: “It seems to me too strong a demand that we German chemists should read, not merely the memoirs appearing in the Germanic and Romantic languages, but those also which are produced in the Slavic tongues and should test the German abstracts for their accuracy.”CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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  • 36.

    D. Mendelejeff, Grundlagen der Chemie, tr. L. Jawein and A. Thillot (St. Petersburg: Carl Ricker, 1890), 683–684n8.Google Scholar

  • 37.

    Mendelejeff, Grundlagen der Chemie, 684n8. He did give (690n12) Meyer some credit for the 1864 table although he pointed out its incompleteness. For a more detailed, point-by-point, and almost ad hominem attack on Meyer, see Mendelejeff, “Zur Geschichte des periodischen Gesetzes,” Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 13 (1880): 1796–1804, on p. 1801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

  • 38.

    D. Mendeléeff, “Comment j’ai trouvé le système périodique des éléments,” Revue générale de chemie pure et appliquée 4 (1901): 533–546, on p. 538.Google Scholar

  • 40.

    Biographical details are drawn from Otto Theodor Benfey, “Meyer, Lothar,” in Charles Coulston Gillespie, ed., Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York: Scribner, 1970), IX and X, 347–353;Google Scholar

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  • 42.

    Bernd Stutte, “Lothar Meyer in Tübingen,” Bausteine zur Tübinger Universitätsgeschichte 8 (1997): 79–88 and Danzer, Dmitri I. Mendelejew und Lothar Meyer, 62.Google Scholar

  • 44.

    Lothar Meyer, “Ueber den Vortrag der anorganischen Chemie nach dem natürlichen Systeme der Elemente,” Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft 26 (1893): 1230–1250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

  • 45.

    Meyer, “On the History of Atomistic Periodicity,” Chemical News 41 (April 30, 1880): 203.Google Scholar

  • 46.

    Lothar Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie und ihre Bedeutung für die chemische Statik (Breslau: Maruschke & Berendt, 1864), 7–8. Ellipses added.Google Scholar

  • 47.

    Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie (1864), 1st ed., 12Google Scholar

  • 48.

    Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie (1864), 1st ed., 137.Google Scholar

  • 49.

    Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie (1864), 1st ed., 139.Google Scholar

  • 50.

    Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie (1864), 1st ed., 144.Google Scholar

  • 51.

    Lothar Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie und ihre Bedeutung für die chemische Statik, 2nd ed. (Breslau: Maruschke & Berendt, 1872), viii–ix.Google Scholar

  • 52.

    For Prout, see Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie (1872), 2nd ed., 292.Google Scholar

  • 53.

    Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie (1872), 2nd ed., 294–300. On his distress at Mendeleev’s “violent reply” to his articles on periodicity, see Meyer, “The History of Atomic Periodicity,” 15.Google Scholar

  • It should be said that while Meyer would specifically credit Mendeleev for his predictions, he also pointed out the places where the Russian chemist was inexact: Lothar Meyer, Grundzüge der theoretischen Chemie (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1890), 60–61.Google Scholar

  • 54.

    Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie (1872), 2nd ed., 302–303. For Meyer’s analysis of his curve, see ibid., 307.Google Scholar

  • 55.

    Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie (1872), 2nd ed., 344.Google Scholar

  • 56.

    Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie (1872), 2nd ed., 362.Google Scholar

  • 57.

    One can observe some of these interpolations and gaps through minute inspection of the atomic-volumes curve. Lothar Meyer, “Die Natur der chemischen Elemente als Function ihrer Atomgewichte,” Annalen der Chemie und Pharmacie, Supp. VII (1870): 354–364, on p. 360.Google Scholar

  • 58.

    Lothar Meyer and Karl Seubert, Die Atomgewichte der Elemente aus den Originalzahlen neu berechnet (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1883).Google Scholar

  • 59.

    Meyer continued to give Mendeleev a great deal of credit even here: Lothar Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie und ihre Bedeutung für die chemische Statik, 3rd ed. (Breslau: Maruschke & Berendt, 1876), xvii. On the other hand, his patience wore thin with Mendeleev’s tone about priority: “His [1869] scheme then still contained much arbitrariness and irregularities that were later eradicated.” Ibid., 291n.Google Scholar

  • 60.

    Lothar Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie und ihre Bedeutung für die chemische Mechanik, 4th ed. (Breslau: Maruschke & Berendt, 1883).Google Scholar

  • 61.

    Lothar Meyer, Die modernen Theorein der Chemie und ihre Bedeutung für die chemische Mechanik, 6th ed., vol. 1: Die Atome und ihre Eigenschaften (Breslau: Maruschke & Berendt, 1896), viii.Google Scholar

  • 64.

    E. Rimbach, Lothar Meyers Grundzüge der theoretischen Chemie, 4th ed. (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1907).Google Scholar

  • 65.

    See Lothar Meyer, Review of Benjamin Brodie’s The Calculus of Chemical Operations, Zeitschrift für Chemie, n.s. 3 (1867): 478–480; Meyer, “Die Natur der chemischen Elemente als Function ihrer Atomgewichte,” 354–355; Van Spronsen, The Periodic System of Chemical Elements, 131; and Britta Görs, Chemischer Atomismus: Anwendung, Veränderung, Alternativen im deutschsprachigen Raum in der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts (Berlin: ERS, 1999), 109.Google Scholar

  • 66.

    Ida Freund, The Study of Chemical Composition: An Account of its Method and Historical Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1904), 474.Google Scholar

  • For two further examples (among many), see Schmidt, Das periodische System der chemischen Elemente, 23 and Stephen G. Brush, “The Reception of Mendeleev’s Periodic Law in America and Britain,” Isis 87 (1996): 595–628, on p. 618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

  • 67.

    Meyer, Die modernen Theorien der Chemie (1876), 3rd ed., 291n.Google Scholar

  • 71.

    See the helpful analysis in Mary Jo Nye, From Chemical Philosophy to Theoretical Chemistry: Dynamics of Matter and Dynamics of Disciplines, 1800–1950 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).Google Scholar

  • 73.

    La loi de Moseley justifie la classification de Mendéleeff; elle justifie mêmes de pouce que l’on avait été obligé de donner à cette classification.” Quoted in J. L. Heilbron, H. G. J. Moseley: The Life and Letters of an English Physicist, 1887–1915 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), vii.Google Scholar

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